Save The Farmer In Six Easy Steps

A plan to keep the agricultural economy going, even through the corona crisis, by Mekhala Krishnamurthy.

It is hopefully common knowledge that even at the best of times, farmers in this country struggle to make ends meet. Add to that a sudden and severe lockdown that has come at a time when the economy was already struggling, and it becomes difficult to fathom the extent of uncertainty and hardship faced by the Indian farmer today.  The Indian farmer is of course not a monolith but this is a common minimum plan for steps that can be taken to alleviate the suffering of farmers right now. 

The government has included agricultural activities, tools and machinery, agricultural inputs, and APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis and procurement agencies in the list of people and services permitted to move during lockdown. However, to keep the myriad interconnections and arrangements (formal and informal) that keep our complex agricultural and food systems going everyday the government's orders have to be implemented seamlessly at all levels.  Secondly, states will need to procure more than they usually do directly from farmers to help them. The Government needs to support the states in every way to make this possible while allowing them to come up with their own solutions when it comes to the best way to make this happen - be it increasing procurement centres so farmers don't have to travel far, making e-passes available so sellers come only at appointed times and there is no overcrowding, offering holding bonuses for those who are willing to sell a little later, giving them assurances that there will be no sudden closures, employing MNREGS labour for procurement etc. 

In a more recent update, Harish Damodaran stresses on the need for increasing procurement centres, "Government agencies have begun procuring the rabi crop, but in the name of maintaining social distancing, only few farmers are being allowed to come to the mandis every day. They are being issued coupons or SMSs to bring quantities as low as 5-10 quintals, similar to women Jan Dhan bank account-holders having to queue up for hours to withdraw a measly Rs 500. Why not open purchase centres at rice and dal mills or even schools, colleges, panchayat offices, cooperative societies, district courts and other public places shut during the lockdown? Wheat just has to be unloaded, cleaned, weighed, bagged and reloaded for dispatch to Food Corporation of India warehouses. If overcrowding is to be avoided, the best way is to spread out buying beyond the mandis." He adds that during the Emergency door to door surveys and procurement at high schools was done because the government needed grains. Today, when farmers need the government, there is no reason why similar measures cannot be employed.

Thirdly, a lot of the produce does not fall within what is procured by the state. Therefore, commercial market places also need to not only be made operational but also allowed to flourish by temporarily suspending regulations that restrict marketplaces. 

Keeping big mandis open will be a challenge because they have the potential of becoming hotbeds of infection. However, solutions for keeping them operational while implementing social distancing must be found at the state level and mandi level - for e.g. putting in place an odd - even system. 

An All India Agri Transport Call Centre has been set up by the central government to facilitate inter-state movement of agricultural produce and inputs during the lockdown. For it to be a success a deeper level of centre state coordination needs to be put in place.

Finally, farmers need to be given income support and credit needs to be made available across the agricultural supply chain to help tide over this difficult time. 

Read this plan in detail here:

Mekhala Krishnamurthy is a Senior Fellow and Director of the State Capacity Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research and Associate Professor at Ashoka University.

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(Image: Kamran Ali - CC BY-SA 3.0)